Robert McCormick

F&W Star Chef

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Restaurant: The Little Nell (Aspen, CO)

Education: Culinary Institute of America

What’s a dish that defines you?
Pear and blue cheese-filled tortellini with bresaola made from a whole steer we get from Emma Farms Cattle Company, a purebred Wagyu cattle farm in Basalt, Colorado. The blue cheese is from Avalanche Cheese Company, and the pears come from the next valley over. I love pasta, and that’s an ideal way to cook—to have all the ingredients come from down the road.

Who taught you how to cook?
Every chef I’ve ever worked with has taught me something. In high school, Paula Lamberton, my cooking teacher, whipped me into shape and got me focused on what I wanted to do. Guenter Seeger in Atlanta taught me how to cook on a higher level and also taught me about kitchen etiquette, the right tools and working with people. Daniel Boulud built on that foundation and taught me about business and the creative side.

What was the first thing you ever made?
Pies when I was about 7 years old. My mom would take us to pick strawberries, blueberries and apples. She loved to bake. That was my first introduction to getting ingredients and learning to follow a recipe. It was a big production, and everyone would make pies together—my grandmas and aunts—and we’d jar preserves for the winter.

What’s your favorite cookbook of all time?
Le Répertoire de la Cuisine: The World Renowned Classic Used by the Experts. It’s an old-school guide to just about everything.

What’s the most important skill you need to be a great cook?
People skills, so you can teach much more effectively.

What’s the best bang-for-the-buck ingredient?
Veal breast. It’s a cheaper cut, less than $2 a pound usually. You need to slow cook it, trim it, and it’s not a great yield, but flavor-wise, bang for the buck, it’s great. A lot of people use it for stock.

What’s your current food obsession?
Fresh juices. I love the freshness of vegetables in their raw form and to brighten dishes up with things like sweet potato, carrot or pepper juice. I think the presentation and nutritional value can’t be beat.

What’s your most cherished souvenir?
Images I take as an amateur photographer. I go motorcycling across the country every couple of years, and the journey itself and taking those images back are the best souvenir.

What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up?
Strawberries. I grab the stems, give a quick rinse and have at it.

What’s the best new store-bought ingredient?
Dried mango and papaya pieces from Mariani. I’m addicted to them.

If you were facing an emergency and could take only one backpack of supplies, what would you pack?
Dried legumes and rice and hope I’d have access to water. I’d bring one of those small butane camping burners, matches and a flashlight. I’d rely on the hunter-gatherer thing to find the rest.